Steve Hargadon is a commercial computer refurbisher based in Sacramento, California. He sells computers to public schools in need of affordable resources and has worked in the past with Net Squared's parent organization, CompuMentor.
Some time ago Steve visited Canada and learned that the Canadian government's computer refurbishment program has supplied public schools across the country with about 25 % of their computers in use. He found this quite inspirational, but was frustrated that there was insufficient infrastructure in the United States to donate such a large quantity of computers. He believes that not enough networking has been done.
One step Hargadon has taken towards responding to this problem has been the creation of an online map showing the locations of computer refurbishers around the United States. He's using a tool called Frappr.
Frapper assigns each map you create it's own web page. Visitors to the page can enter their name, zip code and other information. Their locations are then marked on the map with a clickable flag that pops up their information. The maps are based on the Google Maps system, an amazing tool with many possible applications.
"I wouldn't have the ability to go into Google Maps and make something comparable to this," says Hargadon. "Frappr created a layer between myself and Google. I'm not on the bleeding edge with this. Anybody could pick it up and use it."
The map helps Hargadon's community of practice show a unity of purpose and sense of cohesiveness. Visualization makes a big difference.
In addition to marking locations on the map, Frappr also allows visitors to upload photos of themselves - or in this case of their computer refurbishing facilities. They can also leave comments, click over to a linked Google Groups forum (or any other URL of your choice) and subscribe to updates on new posts to the map by email or RSS.
Refurbishers.us is the fourth Frappr map that Hargadon has created. To promote participation, he bought a unique web address (for less than $10 per year) and set up a redirect to his Frappr page. Then he emailed the refurbishers' list serve with the web address, encouraging groups to put themselves on the map. He tells people about the map at every opportunity and looks forward to having it available as a resource to share with other attendees at the industry's upcoming national conference in January.
So far there are only a fraction of the country's refurbishers marked on the map, but Hargadon hopes that in a year or so it will be a place that people anywhere can visit to find out who refurbishes computers in their area. He hopes to hit the "tipping point" of 100 refurbishers in a couple of months.
Though Hargadon says he finds Frappr to be very intelligently designed, there are a few things that he wishes were different. It is not possible for the map administrator to know how many email subscribers there are to the map updates, and the identity of the admin is not shown on the front page of the maps. The service maintains control of the email addresses, which could limit use of the service for spam, but may also limit its functionality for networking.
Frappr is free and supported by ads on the sides of the map. The ads seem generally unobtrusive to Hargadon and he says that the one time he saw an ad that one of his participants found objectionable, it did not remain on the site. He believes that other users may have contacted Frappr and requested its removal.
"If some one wanted to take the time to create a visual map of all the refurbishers around the country, then we'd take this one down," he says. "But in the absence of that, let's use this free service!"
From the Frappr home page you can browse maps created for a wide variety of purposes. If you have a geographically distributed community of stakeholders, Frappr might be a good visualization service for you.